OCLAE: Another Step of Continental Rebelliousness

Cuban students joined their regional brothers 50 years ago in a very symbolic space of struggle: Havana´s University Grandstand

By: Yuniel Labacena Romero

Email: digital@juventudrebelde.cu

2016-08-11 | 13:19:57 EST
Thousands of university and secondary students from, scholars, foreign delegations and the general people filled the historic university Escalinata that August 11, 1966.Thousands of university and secondary students from, scholars, foreign delegations and the general people filled the historic university Escalinata that August 11, 1966. Photo: juventud rebeldeZoom

August 11, 2016

August 11, 1966 fused old and new dreams and all the inspirers of a miracle at Havana´s University Grandstand. It seemed like Julio Antonio Mella, José Antonio Echeverría and Fidel Castro came together on this spot with all the names of the American liberty.

That day saw the birth of the Latin American and Caribbean Student Organization (OCLAE) at the closing ceremony of the 4th Latin American Congress of Student.

This event took place around the Alma Mater monument with the presence of thousand university and secondary school students, scholarship holders, foreign delegations and the people. The event ratified as the Congress of highest representative level of those which have been held to that day by the student movement of the region.

The student federations from Venezuela, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Panama held posts as members of the Permanent Secretariat, for which Havana was selected venue and it has remained as such to this day. The organizations of the region entrusted Cuba´s University Student Federation with a leadership which has continued for 50 years.

Chairperson of the organization between 1967 and 1968 Humberto Hernández Reinosa remembers those were moments of tension, not only for the student movement, but also for our countries, so an association was needed to keep up the fight.

In his stage as chairperson of OCLAE the moments of highest tension were those eleven months in which the young Puerto Rican José Rafael Varona «Fefel» struggled to survive, after a bombing in Vietnam in 1968, where he was in solidarity with that people´s resistance to a US invasion.        

After recalling that Fefel came to Cuba in 1966 as delegate of Puerto Rico to the 4th OCLAE Congress and that he was part of the Permanent Secretariat of the organization, he assured that as chairperson of the platform he was endowed with new visions of the student fight, with the need for invigorating unity and the solidarity with the youth.

Student Brotherhood

Kenia Serrano Puig, chairperson of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, states that her passage through OCLAE was good for learning how to strengthen student brotherhood, understanding the battle for reform and democratization of education in the region, recognizing the fact that the fight for Puerto Rico´s independence is also the fight for the preservation of our own independence, and getting familiar with the fighting tradition of our peoples against imperialist dominance.

Kenia chaired OCLAE between 1996 and 1998 when the neoliberal surge was invading everything. “It was hard to understand realities different from our own. We stood by organizations amid danger. For instance, In Ecuador, when we visited a student movement which was divided and almost reached a confrontation, and we persuaded them against mutual aggression. We are not only dedicated to issue declarations, we also quiver with the student movement.

“In the 1990s the impact of the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe on the student movement of the region was evident. In addition we lived an onslaught against the elemental rights of the students. At the University of  Asunción, Paraguay, the school of Communication, opposing privatization was fenced in with barbed wire to corner the students who were protesting there. In 1997 the University of  San Marcos in Lima was seized by a military commission the Government of Fujimori had designed.

“There were also tendencies which considered that there was no reason supporting OCLAE´s existence, while others thought that a strong, comprehensive, diverse but united movement was necessary in a common platform. Even with the increasing privatization of universities, the youth of those schools wanted the connection with the student movement of the continent. Amid that situation OCLAE had to make its way.”

“I also remember the debates on the university reform initiated in Cordoba in 1918 and that Che had already promoted in Cuban universities. We wanted a new university, open to the people. That´s why we espoused the existence of public, inclusive and free education for all. We fought for an anti-imperialist university and with a fertile thinking, in a world which was no longer bipolar”, Kenia concluded.

Standing by principles      

Chairperson of the High School Student Federation (FEEM) Suzanne Santiesteban Puerta, leader  of a Cuban organization member of OCLAE affirmed that today the platform is advancing keeping the ideas marked in the reform of Cordoba. “ Has kept up the support to the fair causes of the peoples and will have to keep its leading role in the defense of rights and freedom which has been the banner of its members.

“Today the neoliberal model is resurging. The response has to be the mobilization with greater organization and participation, fighting against the common enemy of our people: imperialism and keeping the contribution to the integration of countries. The organization should keep denouncing the unsolved problems in the rest of the continent like criminalization of social protest and militarization of schools, as well as defending education, seen as a universal human right and a state´s duty, like it is in Cuba.”

In this half a century OCLAE has fulfilled its foundational purposes, since through political downfalls and rightwing onslaughts it found new ways, like Kenia Serrano assured: “We have done this because we have counted on Fidel as inspirer, because he has illuminated the way the student movement and the social sectors should follow to achieve that better society we all aspire to.

Translated by ESTI

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